SUNDERLAND and other relegation-threatened Premier League sides can breathe a little easier after third-bottom Wigan lost to Swansea City at the DW Stadium.
The Latics were on the wrong end of a 3-2 scoreline which stopped, temporarily at least, a surge towards safety from the Premier League minnows.
While QPR and Reading failed to sustain faint hopes of survival this month, four wins for Wigan in their last nine league games – coupled with a run to the FA Cup final – has kept alive their hopes of beating the drop.
The game against Swansea was their game in hand on teams above them.
And victory for Roberto Martinez’ side would have drawn Wigan level with Sunderland on points, lifting the Spaniard’s side from 18th to 16th, and above Norwich and Newcastle United.
It would have meant the Magpies replacing the Latics in the drop zone and for a while in the game at the DW it looked as though that might be a likely result.
Wigan took the lead through Roger Espinoza on the stroke of half-time and although Swansea equalised in the 50th minute – Angel Rangel the scorer – the visitors were level for less than five minutes.
James McCarthy restored their lead in the 53rd minute and Wigan squandered a chance to make the game safe when James McArthur missed a good chance.
Then it fell apart for the home side with Swansea striker Etey Schecter equalising again on the hour and Dwight Tiendalli taking advantage of a defensive mix-up to give the Welsh side the lead for the first time in the 76th minute.
Wigan fought on valiantly and had several chances in the nine minutes injury time added on at the end but it was not to be.
And their chances of survival moved from the probable at the half-time interval, to the merely possible at the final whistle.
With only two games of the 2012-13 season remaining Wigan, on 35 points, need to win at least one of their last two matches – against Arsenal away or Aston Villa at home to have a chance of survival.
A win would take them level on points with Newcastle, Norwich and Sunderland and Martinez must hope that neither of those three clubs take a point in their remaining two games.
Theoretically, any team up to Stoke City in 11th place could still be caught by Wigan.
But the reality is that the Potters can consider themselves safe, especially with their far superior goal difference, and the same is likely to be true of Aston Villa on 40 points and probably Southampton on 39.
That leaves Wigan and the three teams immediately above them and of those three teams it is Sunderland’s hand that has been strengthened the most by this latest result.
Because of the Black Cats’ goal difference being that much better than those of the teams below them, Wigan will realistically need at least a win and a draw from the Arsenal and Villa games to go above Paolo Di Canio’s men.
That fact only underlines just how correct the Italian head coach was in saying that 10-man Sunderland’s hard-fought for point against Stoke City on Monday night could be absolutely crucial to their survival hopes.
A win over Southampton this weekend will be enough to keep Sunderland up, meaning they could go into their last game of the season – against Spurs at White Hart Lane – under no pressure.
But even a draw against the Saints, at this stage, would go a long way to protecting Premier League status from the sides below.
Wigan now have it all to do and must take part in the FA Cup final next weekend as well. But even at this late stage it would be unwise to write off a Latics side who have never been relegated from the Premier League and have proven themselves masters of the late, Great Escape act.